Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Wall: Patronage Is My Only Principle

In a well-timed follow-up to last night's post, Murray Mandryk notes that Brad Wall has finally found an issue where's willing to differentiate his party from the provincial NDP. But there's plenty of reason to doubt that Saskatchewan voters will buy into his call to beg for federal handouts:
While Wall said the court challenge should be pursued "if there's a chance to win this case", he seemed equally critical of the NDP government for clinging to the "have-not" equalization argument.

"Are we going to have the kind of leadership in the province any time soon that acts like it's leading a 'have' province and a province that intends to remain a 'have' province?" Wall asked last week.

Interestingly, Wall's talking points were near-identical to what came out of Harper's mouth: "What Saskatchewan needs is a government that will understand the challenge is to take advantage of that opportunity to become a 'have' province permanently, rather than try and come up with some formula that's going to pay equalization to have provinces, because there is no such formula," Harper said...

While reiterating he's been as frustrated as anybody with the Conservatives' broken promises, Wall said he's equally frustrated because he believes there was a better deal to be had for a "have" province outside the equalization formula, one that might have involved federal infrastructure spending in Saskatchewan or addressing off-reserve First Nations issues. Moreover, even though his past criticism of the broken Conservative promise has not gone over well in Ottawa, Wall hinted that his closer relationship with the federal Conservatives could help Saskatchewan secure an even better deal than the $800-million-a-year deal.
So here's the contrast between the two parties. The Calvert NDP is calling for a stable federal formula which meets the Cons' campaign promises while actually allowing the province to spend the money as it sees fit - and wants to pursue the most obvious avenue to reach that goal.

Meanwhile, Wall is looking for a mandate to make regular appearances, hat in hand, at the federal Department of Pork, in hopes that Saskatchewan can pry out a few more federal dollars based on his ideological connections. And all in the name of presenting Saskatchewan as a proud "have" province.

What's more, it's worth noting that Wall may have missed one of the most important conditions attached to the federal infrastructure funding which he seems to want to pursue. That's right: after his party has spent the past four years trying (unsuccessfully) to shed its well-deserved reputation for wanting to axe the province's public sector, it's now entirely willing to make Saskatchewan dependent on funding which is explicitly tied to P3 schemes rather than public ownership. Which could turn the campaign into even less friendly terrain for the Sask Party.

Of course, the campaign hasn't even started yet, and it could be that other issues will turn up - assuming that Wall is willing to take another stand rather than trying the safer tactic of a full Seinfeld campaign. But his current stand has the potential not only to turn the provincial debate in the NDP's favour, but also to weaken the federal Cons in the province as their own patronage gets placed in the spotlight. Which means that Wall's effort at mutual back-scratching with the Harper government may only wind up giving both exactly what they deserve.

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